CMS aims to shine light in dark data places

By Diana Manos
08:11 AM

“Healthcare has struggled a little bit with transparency,” said Niall Brennan, acting director of the Office of Enterprise Management at the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services.

And if Brennan and his colleagues in the Obama administration have any say in it, there is going to be a deluge of information that will continue to spew forth — the sooner the better.

The federal government has no intention of slowing on its promise to bring as much data to light as it possibly can, Brennan told attendees in a closing keynote June 18 at the Government Health IT Conference and Exhibition

“Our goal has been to put the data out in raw form,” he said.

CMS was surprised at the warm welcome the data received last April when it was released, the attention it garnered from the media and the use of the data by various groups, he said.

“It may not be IT, but it is information that didn’t exist before for the public,” Brennan said.

In April, CMS released utilization and payment data on Medicare physicians that allowed Americans for the first time to see what various Medicare physicians were paid and how often they ordered certain tests and procedures. The spreadsheet isn’t the most ideal format, Brennan said, but it is a start.

“This is a time of unprecedented change in healthcare. We also know that not every data release is going to knock it out of the park, but there is enough data out there for us to keep releasing it," he added. “CMS is always looking for ways to share data in as responsible a way as possible with as many people as possible." 

During the question and answer period, several attendees stood to thank Brennan for the data release, exclaiming in one fashion or another, that it has been a long time coming.

One group that would not like to see the data released has been the American Medical Association. Back in April, AMA’s president Arid Dee Hoven, MD, said the association objects that the spending and payment data can be easily misinterpreted and taken out of context. AMA tried to rectify that discrepancy by issuing guidance for media that wish to cover the data. 

CMS is a veritable beehive of data currently being collected, according to Brennan. With the advent of electronic health records and the various federal programs underway to improve care, reams of electronic data have only just begun to be collected.

Brennan said some of the places where CMS plans to retrieve data to release to the public include: ACOs; Qualified Entities in the Medicare Data Sharing for Performance Measurement Program; federal healthcare research; Quality Improvement Organizations; states; and CMS demonstrations.

Currently CMS is tracking information it plans to release on chronic conditions among Medicare beneficiaries.

When asked at the conference if CMS plans to issue data on quality of care, Brennan made a hint at the information yet to come. The April release of data “is not linked with quality data,” he said with a pause, “… yet.”

See also:

Sebelius: Open federal data here to stay

Is big data already outpacing health IT? 

Making Medicare data useful